Very active hurricane season on the horizon – Munich Re

Reinsurer urges focus on loss prevention and mitigation

Very active hurricane season on the horizon – Munich Re


By Kenneth Araullo

Munich Re has indicated that the 2024 hurricane season in the North Atlantic is expected to be highly active, with current forecasts suggesting that the number of tropical cyclones could be significantly higher than the long-term average.

Although it is difficult to predict the exact number of landfalls, the increased number of storms raises the probability of multiple landfalls. There is also a higher risk of storms in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea this year, increasing the likelihood of landfalls in these regions.

As per its report, Munich Re anticipates above-average hurricane activity in 2024 based on climatological conditions. Leading research institutes predict approximately 23 named cyclones in the tropical North Atlantic for the 2024 season. About 11 of these could develop into hurricanes, with five potentially becoming severe hurricanes with wind speeds exceeding 110mph (177 km/h).

The estimates surpass the long-term average between 1950 and 2023, which recorded 12 named storms, 6.4 hurricanes, and 2.8 severe hurricanes. The forecasts also exceed storm activity during the cyclical warm phase in the North Atlantic since the mid-1990s, which averaged 15.7 tropical storms, 7.5 hurricanes, and 3.3 severe hurricanes.

The hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and continues until the end of November, as the probability of tropical cyclone development is generally much lower outside this period.

Shifting to La Niña

Sea surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic are currently at record high levels, between 0.5 and 1.0°C above the long-term average, and are expected to remain high throughout the peak of the hurricane season.

Meanwhile, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific is likely to shift to the La Niña phase, which favors the development of severe hurricanes in the North Atlantic.

Warmer ocean temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic provide more fuel for the potential development and intensification of tropical cyclones. The ENSO cycle in 2023 was characterized by strong El Niño conditions, which inhibit tropical cyclone development due to vertical wind shear. However, La Niña conditions reduce high-altitude wind shear, making it easier for tropical cyclones to develop.

La Niña also influences storm tracks. A pronounced high-pressure area between the Azores and Bermuda during La Niña phases often allows storms to move further west, increasing the risk to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Researchers believe that climate change is contributing to a higher proportion of severe hurricanes and storms with extreme rainfall, although it may not necessarily increase the overall number of storms. However, most climatologists agree that climate change plays a significant role in the exceptionally high water temperatures in the North Atlantic.

Anja Rädler, meteorologist and climate expert at Munich Re, noted the importance of treating storm activity forecasts with caution.

“However, this year we have two important factors that will probably favor cyclones – the development of a La Niña phase in conjunction with very high water temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic, the formation area for the hurricanes. For that reason, the forecasts seem to be more reliable this time,” Rädler said.

Severe hurricanes making landfall on the US coast can result in billions of dollars in losses. Storm surges and floods that accompany hurricanes can cause significant damage further inland.

Hurricanes affect not only the southern and southeastern states of the US but also the northeast coast of North America, including Canada. Prevention through robust buildings and optimal early-warning systems is crucial to minimize losses and protect human life.

Thomas Blunck, a member of the board of management at Munich Re, emphasized the importance of loss prevention. He stated that while it is impossible to predict hurricane landfalls months in advance, investing in stable structures can prevent losses and save lives.

“That is why Munich Re has, for many years, been supporting the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) in the USA. This organization tests the stability of full-size houses in a wind tunnel and makes recommendations on more robust construction methods,” Blunck said.

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